(image: Penelope Haralambidou 'City of Ladies' installation photo by Andy Keate)
The joy of working with animation and a concept ilke this is that the rules are up for interpretation. The materials and scale are ambiguous so there is ample opportinuty to experiment. There was a sense that this was a work that was both giant and tiny, a womblike gestation of an idea of civic scale, as relevant today and tomorrow as it was yesterday, and manifest through tissue and hand-sized measurements as well as man-made materials. Both historical and futuristic. In a void but also in a fluid. The concepts of inside and outside also blur when you examine a story like this. Similar to our previous project, Between the Retina and the Dome, this work also has a keen sense of the observed vs unobserved to a biological degree. Allowing the city to grow in an abstract way, the idea of using indistinct female voices came ot me as a way to create a sense of peace and calm, of the unobserved, yet the close camera angles give a sense of the microscope, of magnification. Other sections evoke the cosmos. A lot of fun to work on!
'City of Ladies' focuses on the under–researched significance of the architectural and urban allegory portrayed in Pizan's text, as well as in the accompanying illuminations – miniature illustrations – which display different stages of the construction of the city. Alongside historical research, Haralambidou explores de Pizan's allegorical spatial scheme through an embodied act of design that combines medieval illumination drawing techniques on vellum with digital craft and film. This exhibition of drawings, models, objects and films aims to reframe de Pizan's message in an architectural context, but also to project her allegorical 'City of Ladies' into the future. Although her work was popular and influential at her time, it remained overlooked until being rediscovered in modern times, referenced and revered by Simone de Beauvoir, Judy Chicago and Tai Shani, amongst others.
Christine de Pizan, The Book of the City of Ladies, 1404, trans. Rosalind Brown–Grant. London: Penguin, 1999:
"The female sex has been left for a long time now, like an orchard without a wall, and bereft of a champion to take up arms in order to protect it."
"… For this reason, we three ladies whom you see before you have been moved by pity to tell you that you are to construct a building in the shape of a walled city, sturdy and impregnable."
"… You alone of all women have been granted the honour of building the City of Ladies. In order to lay the foundations, you shall draw fresh water from us three as from a clear spring. We will bring you building materials which will be stronger and more durable, than solid, uncemented marble. Your city will be unparalleled in splendor and will last for all eternity."
Thanks and credits:
Research assistant: John Cruwys. The research is kindly supported by The Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL, Architecture Research Fund. With special thanks to B–Made at the Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL, Graham Reed and Kevin Doyle at Jaytec Glass and Ray Westall at Moss & Co Timber. An extract from: 'The Female Body Politic: Remodelling the Book of the City of Ladies' was presented at Architecture & Collective Life, 16th AHRA conference 2019, Dundee (see downloadable pdf below).